VANCOUVER — The Canadian men’s field hockey team rode a rollercoaster of emotion Sunday that ended in a dramatic victory over Ireland in a sudden-death shootout to earn an Olympic berth.
“I can’t really find any words,” said Gordon Johnston, who scored his second goal of the game in the sudden-death shootout. “It was one hell of a performance from the guys.
“We fought all game. We did everything we needed to do. We killed it out there.”
Canada won the game 3-1 (5-4 in the shootout) to punch their ticket to next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo. Canada also needed a sudden-death shootout win over New Zealand back in 2015 to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
Adam Froese also scored in sudden death. Captain Scott Tupper forced the shootout when he scored on a penalty stroke with no time left on the clock.
Canada lost the opening match of the two-game aggregate 5-3 on Saturday.
“We knew we didn’t do ourselves justice yesterday,” said Canadian assistant coach Gregg Clark. “We had a hard look at the video. We fronted up to the errors that we made, the performance we put out.
“We knew if we got it right today we would have a really good shot. The boys stepped up. We left it really late. In this game, so much drama happens in the last quarter. Praise to the guys that stuck to it and got the job done.”
Ireland’s John McKee opened Sunday’s scoring in the sixth minute.
Johnston tied it in the 21st minute, then Oliver Scholfield made it 2-1 in the 37th. That left Canada trailing 6-5 on the aggregate.
The final minute was a frenzy with Canadian players attacking the Irish net.
When the clocked ticked to zeros the Irish players thought the game was over and began celebrating. Canada requested a video review, arguing Jamie Wallace had been hauled down in the penalty area prior to the final whistle.
After a delay, video umpire Diego Barbas of Argentina ruled there had been a foul and Tupper calmly stroked home the tying goal.
“It was a nerve-wrecking moment but I’m happy I was able to do my part,” said Tupper, who will be attending his third Olympics.
“I’m incredibly proud of our team, the way we battled back. To come back against a team that is as strong as Ireland, when you are down two, it was tremendous fight and will.”
Irish captain Jonathan Bell called the loss devastating.
“We thought we had the game,” said Bell. “A last-minute decision like that (video review) is just not acceptable at this level. It was not a penalty stroke in a million years. How he comes up with that decision I just don’t know.
“We have to look at ourselves. We probably could have done a little better throughout the game. Canada came at us hard, but it’s hard to look beyond that decision.”
The teams were tied 3-3 after the first round of the shootout which saw five players from each side attempt shots.
In the first round of the sudden death both Johnston and Ireland’s Eugene Magee scored. In the second round, Ireland’s McKee missed his shot. Froese was mobbed by his teammates after his goal made the shootout score 5-4.
“I was so confident with our group, we were going to get those goals in,” said Johnston. “I’m just really glad our boys stepped up and finished it off.”
The Canadian men competed at the 2016 Rio Games but haven’t played in back-to-back Olympics since 1984 and '88.
In its first attempt to qualify for Tokyo, Canada lost 5-2 to Argentina in the gold-medal game the Pan American games in Peru this summer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2019.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press